GOP lawmaker: 9/11 reforms may be delayed
Bush briefing Thursday
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report by the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is expected to recommend reforms in the U.S. intelligence structure, but any changes may have to wait until next year, a top Republican congressman said Wednesday.
The independent 9/11 commission -- formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- is scheduled to release the final report Thursday.
Congressional sources told CNN the report outlines 10 "missed opportunities" by both the Clinton and Bush administrations to derail the suicide hijacking plot.
One source said, however, that it would take a "huge stretch of the imagination that any of these opportunities would have really happened."
Congressional leaders were briefed on the report by the commission's leaders Tuesday and Wednesday. Top White House officials were briefed Wednesday afternoon.
President Bush told reporters at the White House that there needs to be a "full discussion" of how to overhaul U.S. intelligence after the commission's findings are released.
But he disputed any suggestion that his administration could have done more to prevent the al Qaeda attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
"I told the commissioners, right here in the Oval Office, that had we had any inkling whatsoever that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America," he said.
"And I'm confident President Clinton would have done the same thing. Any president would."
Six of the missed opportunities mentioned in the report occurred during the Bush administration and four under the Clinton administration, according to a story in The Washington Post, citing an unnamed government official it said had read the report.
Officials told CNN the report will note that both Clinton and Bush took action against al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but that neither administration totally appreciated the threat his al Qaeda terror network posed.
Delays could hamper reforms
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip in the House of Representatives, said it was unlikely the 9/11 attacks could have been stopped.
"This report's only of value if we use it in a positive, forward-looking way, and not try to get into meaningless blaming, who could have done what when; now that it doesn't matter," Blunt said on CNN's "American Morning."
But Blunt said that because the report was delayed for two months, any reforms it proposes are unlikely to be made until next year.
"If this would have come out in the spring, I would have hoped we could have had by Labor Day or so, some actual changes to take to the House and Senate floor and put on the president's desk," he said.
Commissioners complained that the White House and other agencies impeded access to documents, information and officials, making the two-month extension of its deadline necessary.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, said the report would include some "very realistic" recommendations.
"It's not about assigning blame, it's about preventing any future acts of terrorism to our country," Pelosi said.
She suggested that a lame-duck session could address the recommendations after the November elections.
Republican Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, said the report will show "there was failure on all fronts."
"What I heard was what most of us already knew," DeLay said Tuesday. "I'm sure the report will give the details substantiating what we've all already known, that basically security is not something that can be 100 percent."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the United States was "not on war footing" before the attacks.
"The threat from terrorism was building for more than a decade; this was a threat that was emerging for quite some time," he said. "I expect that the 9/11 commission will talk about how [the] national security and counterterrorism apparatus of the United States did not evolve with that emerging, building terrorist threat."
Intelligence czar recommended
The commission is expected to recommend the creation of a new, Cabinet-level intelligence chief and major changes in "both the structure and the culture" of the FBI, a source familiar with the report said.
The nearly 600-page document criticizes Congress for not having done more over the years to exert oversight authority and correct obvious problems, the source said.
The report concludes in "sharp language" that a main reason the country was ill-prepared for the attacks is that intelligence responsibilities are spread too widely across the government, according to a source who said he had read a final draft.
The report notes there have been too many turf battles and other budget and jurisdictional fights, he said.
Congressional sources also said the report does not recommend the creation of a domestic intelligence agency, similar to Britain's MI5.
But commissioners are expected to call for a new National Counterterrorism Center that would replace the current Terrorism Threat Integration Center, according to congressional and government officials briefed on the report.
The commission feels the current center, which is charged with condensing all threat reporting in the government, is duplicative with other operations, the officials said.
The report will call for unifying government counter-terrorism efforts in this new center, they said.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card and White House counsel Al Gonzales were briefed on the report Wednesday afternoon, and Bush will review the full report Thursday, McClellan said.
The document will be published for sale in bookstores for $10. It will also be available online and through the Government Printing Office.
The 10-member bipartisan panel was established by Congress to investigate the events before, during and immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
John King and Elaine Quijano contributed to this report.